I know I'm going to stir a few people up on this article but I am constantly bombarded with parents and coaches obsession with pitching speed. Does speed really matter? Well, the sport is called FASTpitch after all so speed is a component but, pitchers do not have to throw 60's and up to be successful. Is a number on the radar gun the goal or getting hitters out?
Speed is Intimidating
A pitcher that just throws hard and not very accurate may get batters out on pure intimidation. Most commonly, batters just swing so they will not be late and they chase bad pitches. There are so many fast pitchers that do not have control and are what I like to call "effectively wild." This means that they do not throw straight and usually have some movement that occurs from bad mechanics and not from putting deliberate spin on the ball to cause controlled breaks. These pitchers usually have complicated windups and do not finish the same every pitch. You can also look at the catcher, if her glove is moving a lot than she is tracking and guessing where the ball is going instead of knowing her pitcher will hit her spot.
This type of pitcher is easy to spot and here is how you beat them:
Batters need to move as far back in the batters box as possible and crowd the plate. Because of the accidental movement, pushing the catcher back makes it harder for them to catch the ball close to the strike zone and have an opportunity to frame. Although strikes are where the ball crosses the plate, the majority of umpires call based on where it is caught.
So moving back shrinks her strike zone. Now each batter should take until they get a strike. The effectively wild pitcher with speed typically runs out of gas quickly. Making her throw a lot of pitches early will turn into runs later.
Mechanics First, Then Speed
Not all fast pitchers have bad mechanics and are "effectively wild." Having great mechanics is the best and easiest way to gain speed. Foregoing mechanics for speed usually results in major injuries forcing pitchers to end their careers early or require major surgeries before they get their driver's license. Spending the early years grooving good mechanics will make it easier to add speed later. Now, I do not want pitchers to throw slow. I teach pitchers to move as fast as they can under control. They will get to the point where they are completely comfortable with their mechanics and motion. Once they are comfortable, I encourage girls to "own" their motion and experiment with moving faster, kicking harder and pushing off more. Once a pitcher "owns" her motion and begins to experiment, they may notice a slight decline in control but it typically does not last longer than 3-5 practices. The most important part of spending time on mechanics is to avoid serious career ending injuries later.
Age, Size and Hormones
Not all pitchers are created equal! And that is ok! Pitchers grow at different rates and are made up of all shapes and sizes. The hardest thing to explain to players and their parents is that adding speed to a pitcher before her body is ready can lead to serious lifelong injuries in growth plates or the spine. Once hormones come into play for a pitcher, muscle development will increase and adding speed happens almost overnight. Being patient and waiting for the body to develop will allow pitchers to peak at the correct time (14-16 years old).
Side note, although there some players that "verbally commit" at young ages, nothing is signed or official until they get into their junior year. Throwing 55+ mph before your body is ready is more likely to result in surgery than a scholarship.
Should you give up on a smaller framed pitcher? Absolutely not. Since smaller pitchers usually, not always, throw slower, they have to work harder to get batters out. They typically gain a better knowledge of the game and master their skill. Otherwise, they would not earn mound time. From playing and coaching in college, the majority of my college teammates and players pitched at some point. They may not have been good enough to pitch at the next level, but they took what they learned as pitchers and applied it at the plate to become reliable batters. The ones that came through in clutch situations at the plate in our college games were more times than not, high school pitchers.
Not every pitcher I work with has the size to throw 60+ mph. That is why I emphasize getting batters out and rarely pull out the radar gun. When it comes gameday, you can not win from only throwing hard. Getting batters out is all that matters.
I know this is going to spark some conversation so feel free to comment below!
This is PART 2 of my Three Part Speed Series. Be sure to read PART 1 and PART 3!
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